If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
1 Corinthians 15:19
The dominant news story this week was the fire that destroyed much of the historic Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, France. Many of my friends and acquaintances posted pictures of their own visits to that historic building on social media and mourned the destruction of that beautiful, Gothic place of worship. In the space of 12 hours, a building that has stood for over 800 years was almost totally razed to the ground, but for the heroic intervention of the Parisian fire-brigade, who managed to douse the fire before the whole structure was totally ruined.
There are many questions as to how this could have happened. The current speculation is that this fire was a result of the restoration work being done, which in fact should have been carried out decades earlier. This calamity was inevitable, because of the failure of those who were charged with maintaining the building, to do their part in good time.
The fact that this catastrophe happened on the Monday of Holy Week shows us in vivid detail, the transience and fragility of life in the here and now. The Cathedral in Paris, for all its transcendent beauty, was still ultimately a building made by human hands. And as we can see, human work is always at risk of decay, death, and destruction. Poignantly what happened this past week also reminds us of the message of Lent: that we are to “remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.” That there is something beyond the mundane vagaries of living in the present. And that Christ brings us hope which is beyond just “this life only.”
And as beautiful, majestic and inspiring a monument that Notre Dame was (and hopefully will be after it is rebuilt), it is still only “dust in the wind” (Kansas). But thanks be to God, the culmination of lent in Good Friday and Easter tell us that God stepped into our fallen world, to redeem and restore that which is dying, lost and condemned. He is at work in and through us to “make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5) As the verse above from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians implies, the hope that comes to us through the resurrection is for more than what we have in this life. That it points to hope in something—or rather, in someone greater.
When we have faith in things, this faith is conditional. It depends on our efforts, our dedication, and our unwavering commitment to keeping it going. In contrast, faith in Jesus has nothing to do with our dedication, performance or abilities. His love is given to us, not earned or deserved. And so is unconditional. It is offered freely and graciously to us.
As “historic architect,” Duo Dickson wrote in a reflection on the fire, “Every building simply fails over time, just like every human. But the love of God becomes present in the work I do, and that love is without beginning or end — it just is.”
May this message of Easter “guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). And that you will find your hope in Jesus, who will give you the peace which far exceeds all human understanding!